The Wolverine

April 2020

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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24 THE WOLVERINE APRIL 2020 "That could have been a champi- onship team there if [junior forward Isaiah] Livers would've played all season," Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said. "Think about that. They lost five games without him in league play. We beat them by four [games] in the league. They could have been a championship team." Instead, the Wolverines had to settle for a .500 record, due in large part to the nine games Livers missed and par- tially due to bad luck. Livers injured his groin after only three minutes in a win over Presbyterian Dec. 21 and wouldn't return until a home game with Illinois Jan. 25. The Wolverines were playing well, but missed free throws down the stretch after losing Livers again in the second half. Livers returned for a home win over Michigan State Feb. 8, the start of a five-game winning streak that all but secured the Wolverines' NCAA Tournament bid given their strength of schedule. "He is a talent," Howard said after the win over MSU. "We missed him a lot." But Howard wasn't using the in- jury as an excuse during a tough run without him. The Wolverines dropped four straight games in Jan- uary, including two on the road to Minnesota and Iowa (finished the year No. 25 per the Associated Press), and a second loss — this one at home — to a ranked Illini team that ended the season No. 21 in the AP poll. "Our confidence, as well as our belief, has not changed," Howard said during the bad stretch. "There is no doubt within our team. We know no one is feeling sorry for us because we are losing one of our best players these last few games and we've lost games without him. "At the end of the day, we have to keep fighting, keep plugging." So they did, even though they weren't getting the bounces. They missed free throws down the stretch that likely would have secured a win in the loss to Illinois, and a question- able flagrant foul call in the last min- ute helped Ohio State secure the first of two wins against the Wolverines. Those were the way the breaks went in Big Ten play. Only 52 of the 353 Division I teams, in fact, ranked lower than U-M in's luck factor, a metric that considers the difference between a team's record and what the data would expect it to be. If a team's record is better than its predictive numbers, it's deemed lucky — and Michigan wasn't. Down the stretch, however, it was poor defense that really cost U-M. Michigan gave up double-digit tri- ples in losses to Wisconsin and at Ohio State, and limped to the finish. They were set to face Rutgers for a third time in the Big Ten Tournament before it was called, having beaten the Scarlet Knights twice, including their only loss at home. "We don't go into a hole and start hiding," Howard said heading into the postseason. "We don't ask for a pity party. Our main objective is to figure out solutions and see how we can get better. "I trust that we'll get back on track. We're going to have two good prac- tices before we play on Thursday. … There'll be film, see what we can learn, what areas and how we can protect the three-point line a lot bet- ter than we have the last two games." A SHOCKING END They wouldn't get the chance, of course. Simpson was crushed, but he left Michigan fans a message on so- cial media days after the cancellation. "This has been an amazing four years throughout my college ca- reer at the University of Michigan," Simpson wrote. "Through all the ups and down, hatred, supporters, non- Senior center Jon Teske helped U-M to 108 victories, two Big Ten Tournament titles, three Sweet 16s and a national championship game appearance over his four-year career. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL U-M head coach Juwan Howard "At some point, every team is going to go through [down times]. It happened to us. I think we've learned a lot, and I think we've gotten better through the adversity. We're going to forge ahead."

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